Novel Writing
Charlotte Rains Dixon  

Prepping to Write a Novel

When it comes to fiction writing, lately I've been struggling.

First I was totally committed to writing one novel.  Oh, but no.  Then I decided that I absolutely, positively was in love with a different idea.  Until I desperately needed to work on yet a third idea, the best one yet!  This has been my fiction-writing life for the last few months, a little attention here, a bit of attention there, which adds up to a whole lot of nothing.

Have I ever mentioned how unhappy I get when I'm not writing fiction?  I exist in a semi-miserable state of dullness when I'm not fully engaged in a fictional world.  So it was vital that I get going on a novel.  And yet, every time I started in again, I'd do the same thing.  Commit to one idea for a bit, then another, then another. 

Part of it, I'm sure, stemmed from uncertainty about my completed novel.  I'm in the process of marketing it to agents, which is not for the faint of heart.  (Honestly?  I understand why the traditional publishing industry is imploding: many agents are so overworked they won't even bother to reply to your queries.  What's wrong with this picture?  Don't the agents rely on writers for their jobs?  Can't they at least manage a polite no?) Repeatedly, I am being told a variation on this theme:  love your writing, but your main character is not relateable enough.  Oh, and get this–being a writer is one thing that makes her unrelateable.

Anyway, it is hard to be creative when you're busy thinking dark thoughts about the publishing industry.  And certainly I had plenty of other writing to keep me busy.  So I kept going on my round-robin of dipping into different novel ideas.

But the truth is, I was driving myself crazy.   I wanted to be deeply engrossed in writing a novel again.  Yet I couldn't manage to make it happen.

Until a couple weeks ago, when my coach challenged me to move forward on this issue.  She suggested I ask for guidance.  I was to ask the universe for a project that felt good and authentic to me, would be fun to write and yet also easy to sell (might as well, right?)

And so I did.  When I walked, I asked for a novel idea.  When I did dishes, I asked for a novel idea.  When I showered, I asked for a novel idea.  I really, really wanted an idea for a novel.

Cue my other ongoing project, office organization.  Sorting through files, I realized I had lots of them full of notes for various truncated novel ideas.  So I made a stack of them and started reading through, with an open mind.  The very first one, a forgotten idea with some rough notes from several years ago, made my heart pound. 

And when I read over the notes I had in that file, I identified my problem.  I'd not done any prep work for the novel!  Worse, I'd not done it for any of my poor stunted novel ideas.  No wonder I was spinning like the Mac pinwheel when I set out to work on them. Oh, I'd started preparing character dossiers and plot outlines.  But something always pulled me away from it, and off I'd go attempting to write.  Which is like building a house without a foundation.

The thing is, I know better.  I've given lectures on how to write a novel in 30 days, which is dependent on having some pretty damn solid prep work in place before you get started.  I exhort my students to get to know their characters and write up at least a loose plot outline before getting started.  I blog about these topics!

But I think I've lost my center as I've been in the process of marketing my previous novel.  If anything can make you feel unsure of yourself, its submitting work to agents.  And beyond that, has been the lack of closure.  I'm not certain where I'm going with the original novel and that lack of certainty has made it hard to move forward.

Until now.

Because I'm on it, baby!  I've committed to working the idea that made my heart flutter, no matter what happens with Emma Jean and no matter where this new novel takes me.  Which means that the next step is some serious novel prep work.  And, since I generally blog about what's on my writing mind, that means I'm going to spend the next two posts (Wednesday and Friday) on this topic. 

I'm excited.  Nothing better than getting to work on a new project.

Chime in!  I'd love to hear your thoughts on starting a new fiction project.

0 thoughts on “Prepping to Write a Novel

  1. Stephanie

    Hi Charlotte! We must be twins, because I’m in the *exact* same boat. I’m currently querying my first novel, and the combination of loving those characters so much and not knowing what’s going to happen with that book has made it really tough to get committed to a new story. On top of that, I feel like I need to incorporate all of the feedback I’ve received on my first book, to avoid those mistakes in the next one. So now I’ve gotta write something that’s unique and compelling and grabs the reader from the very beginning and stands out in this market and has a voice that readers want to get lost in. My first book was a passion project, it was the story that I wanted to read, and I had such fun writing it. But this one feels like a lot more pressure, like I have a follow a lot more rules in order to write something I can sell. It’s hard to get back to that place of writing for pure joy once you’ve started trying to publish something else you love. I’ve bounced around with lots of ideas, and have finally settled on one that sticks (after several months of false starts on a number of different projects), but I’m finding that it’s still hard to get fully invested in it. I really like this new story, and I believe in it, but it hasn’t fully possessed me yet like my first book did. I’m hoping the feeling will come, and guessing that maybe it’s just a reflection of my uncertainty about the future of my last story.

    Best of luck on your latest (& the one you’re querying now)!

  2. J E Fritz

    I, too, have started novels only to give them up after a few (or even a few dozen) pages. Sometimes the idea doesn’t catch fire and there’s really nothing I can do about it but keep searching for the “it” project, the one I can write even when I feel uncreative and I’m forcing myself. But the act of writing is different from every writer, so go with what works!

  3. Charlotte Dixon

    Stephanie, it is SO good to hear someone else going through the same thing as me. Not that I’m happy you’re going through it, but misery loves company. Along the same lines, I also feel a bit of pressure to write a snappy, funny, character like Emma Jean, the protagonist of my first novel. The odd thing is that I had no intention to write funny or snappy, that’s just the authentic voice that came out. So now I’m afraid that if my next novel isn’t that way, it won’t be successful. Never mind that the first one hasn’t even sold yet. The mind plays terrible tricks on us! Thank you so much for dropping by and good luck to you, too.

    J.E., Thank you, too. I thought I was the only one who kept starting and stopping novels. The thing is, I have found my “It” novel, I’m sure of it. I can’t wait to get started on it and I think about it all the time when I’m not writing. And, you are right–the process works differently for every writer and one thing I’ve learned in working with writers is the importance of honoring that.

  4. Trisha

    I’m so glad you got one of those heart-pounding ideas! I absolutely LOVE that inspired feeling!

    I’ve read a fair few novels about writers, so I don’t see why her being a writer would make her unrelatable! Weird…

  5. Patrick Ross

    Charlotte, I’m so glad you’ve had your ah-ha moment. I can relate to your frustration with the pace of the publishing world and its responsiveness (or lack thereof). I’ve got two different nonfiction book proposals circulating, each generating some interest but no takers yet. It makes it hard to turn my attention to new creative works when those are floating in limbo out there. But we have to do that. We have to keep creating. And I know you will.

  6. Charlotte Dixon

    Trisha, I love that feeling, too, I think its what I’m always looking for, and yet it still surprises me when it comes. I’m glad you think the whole writer/relateable thing is weird, because I did, too. And as far as spell check is concerned, relateable is not even a word! Yet agents use it all the time.

    Patrick, That’s exactly where my novel is–generating some interest but no takers. Which is quite possibly more frustrating than not having any interest at all.

    J.D., you are brilliant. I used to go to conferences all the time and haven’t lately. There’s a good one here in town every August, so perhaps I’ll try that. And I do need to go back and reread Emma Jean. Its been awhile, but in the past when I have, it has made me realize that I really do like the novel and it is the best I can do at the moment. Of course, as you mention, the next one will be even better!

  7. J.D.

    Hi, Charlotte. I’m trying to finish a rewrite of my third. My second, which I thought was pretty good, sits on the back burner. There are three others burning in my ear, including a completely different rewrite of the one I’m working on. While all of this may sound confusing, it renders me the perfect person to give advice. First, I think you should read Emma Jean again. Not to rewrite, just to read it. You may find you like it. That will fire you up to find an agent. I got some encouragement five months ago when I took my second to a conference. I pitched it to three agents. All of them agreed to look at it. I still got rejected, but at least an agent read my first fifty. I think you’ve mentioned pitching yours in person at least once. I think you should take Emma Jean to a conference at least once. You can even weasel a job as a speaker. As for the new project, have at it. It will be better than your last. You’ve learned. It is difficult to write and to market. I know–that’s what I’m doing. My second is on the back burner and I know that’s not right. Maybe you can block an hour a day for Emma Jean. I need to do the same. I need to find an agent that is a good fit and query my second. Then I need to find a conference where I can pitch this third, after I finish the rewrite, and maybe even use one pitch for the second. There! You can tell I’m a writer: I have this unique ability to make my thoughts completely clear. LOL.

  8. Zan Marie

    It’s always good to know you have company in misery. I do have three or four ideas even though I’m concentrating on one. Sometimes the others stray into the forefront of my brain and can’t be denied. Here’s to multitasking. ; )

  9. Charlotte Dixon

    Zan Marie, A hearty cheer to multi-tasking, hooray! And I am SO glad to know I’m not the only one who struggles with this.

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